"Pre-gaming" leads to riskier behavior and more alcohol consumption, groundbreaking study finds

A Swiss study has found that "pre-drinking," "pre-funking," "pre-gaming"—basically, the ritual among college-age young adults of drinking before you go out to drink, leads to "excessive consumption and adverse consequences."

Pre-gaming didn't have a name when I was their age; it's interesting how the phenomenon (is it even a phenomenon?) has become a media meme this year. This NYT story is another example.

I realize the newly-released study provides citeable evidence about a behavior with dangerous consequences, but the results are kind of like, yo, thanks, Captain Obvious.

"Increased drinking was associated with a greater likelihood of blackouts, hangovers, absences from work or school or alcohol poisoning. Pre-drinkers were also found to engage more often in unintended drug use, unsafe sex, drunken driving or violent behavior."

Sounds about right. More in the LA Times.


  1. Basically you have to do these sorts of studies because otherwise, if someone wanted to actually do something about it, when they did, there would be collection of people, organizations and businesses saying “There is no proof this happens”, “We think drinking at home is more responsible and leads to less problems”, etc, etc.

    And who knows, maybe they would have been correct, but in this case now we actually know the truth (assuming it is a well designed and carried out study).

  2. In other news, the sun shines during the day.  Then it gets dark at night. Then we do it all over again.

  3. Breaking:  college students don’t have a lot of spare money, so they make the economic choice to “load up” on cheap alcohol in their dorm rooms before going out and paying 8 bucks/beer.

      1.  donate.  receive $30.  exit Plasma Alliance.  cross street.  enter store.  six pack of Mickey’s Hand Grenades.  show and/or house party to follow.  So.  Many.  Times.

        Fort Sanders in the 90’s would provide.

  4. “Pre-drinkers were also found to engage more often in unintended drug use, unsafe sex [can the rest]”

    That’s terrible.  Where can I find these so-called pre-gamers?  I want to … er … tell them a thing or two … and … er … explain … y’know.  Just where are they?

  5. I come back to the question: What’s the point in getting loaded in the first place? The group I hung with as a student was capable of being just as silly (and finding just as many girlfriends/boyfriends) without significant amounts of chemical assistance.

    Of course I’m biased — I never found the effects of alcohol particularly entertaining or interesting.

    1. Alcohol is a social lubricant used in moderation and in the right conditions, for some it releases them from inhibitions that allow them to interact with more people positively. 

      But some use it to deliberately “remove” inhibitions that should remain in place in any circumstance, to excuse fighting, sexual assault, drunk driving, and other serious violations, along with absence from work/school, unsafe consensual sex, “unintended” drug use and general bad behaviour.

      It isn’t the effect of the alcohol they look forward to when they look forward to their “good time”, it’s the excuse they think it provides, the opportunity to do things they know they damn well shouldn’t.

      Everyone knows it, they’ve met these guys/gals/douches, and it isn’t all of them but it is their faults/attitudes that are perpetuated too often in party scenes.

      1. Reactions to alcohol are culturally determined. In the West we use alcohol to ‘release inhibitions’ (give ourselves an excuse for sex and violence). In many non-Western societies people drink large amounts of alcohol without exhibiting many of the symptoms we associate with alcohol consumption and drunkenness.

        1. Responses to the physical effects of alcohol are culturally determined. 

          Not all releases of inhibition are sex and violence and what on earth, is there a lot of “pre-loading” as discussed here outside the west, because I missed that part of the discussion. Where does the “No” fit in to your post?

          1. The no was misplaced – trying to respond to two comments at once – I think. I realised that almost as soon as I had posted my comment, trying not to get caught at work.
            There are different physiological reactions among literate societies. Many non-Western literate societies do not suffer from blackouts, hangovers and other adverse effects from the ‘excessive’ consumption of alcohol.
            In many respects the Western reaction to alcohol is more akin to that of illiterate societies.
            Alcohol use does not need to lead to loss of control. Depending on who you drink with and where and when you drink or spend time drunk loss of control can be either beneficial or detrimental. Can you have those who benefit from loss of control without those who suffer?
            What is the ‘right’ cultural reaction to alcohol?

          2.  Are you implying different rates/amounts of consumption or are you actually trying to say that non-westerners don’t black out when they drink a lot? Your argument would be more powerful with that cleared up.

        1. Getting “shit-faced” is overdoing it, though. That black or white mentality – either getting hopelessly drunk or hanging around with your silly /shudder/ friends, is a sure recipe for missing out on life.

          1. You’re the one who began from either missing out or overdoing it. “/cringe/Missing out isn’t better than overdoing it.”

            The OP notes that there was chemical assistance btw, and your shuddering at the thought of socializing with people that don’t overdo it is just odd.

          2. “the group I hung with” (didn’t overdo it) <— Missing out -is not better than- (<) overdoing it. 

            Are you drunk? You clearly said overdoing it is greater than missing out, while expressing disdain for OP's group. 

    2. I never understood that either. I wonder if it correlates with personality differences, so that extroverts enjoy this while introverts don’t, or allistics do while autistics don’t, or something similar. But I wish there wasn’t so much pressure on us non-drinkers to start drinking, on introverted people to go to busy parties full of strangers, on sense-sensitive people to go to busy clubs full of bright lights and loud noises, etc.

      1. Well, I’m an introvert who enjoys drinking and loud music. Pouring down the beer while a black metal band is trying to blow the roof off the building is pure bliss for me.

      2. That surprises me too.  I’ve never been drunk (no real moral objection, just can’t stand the taste of alcohol), but the pressure on me to have a drink or get drunk was always nominal at most.  I guess that depends on one’s social circle or one’s susceptibility to peer pressure or the cultural pressure presented by TV shows, movies, and advertising, but nobody’s ever really made a serious effort to convince me that I’d be having a lot more fun with an alcoholic beverage or three inside me.

        Then again, even the shy, introverted, collegiate Donald of the late 80s and early 90s didn’t really get invited to parties.  So maybe that explains the lack of pressure.

        Also, I was a guy.  And not a particularly cute one at that.  I have to think that women get pressured an awful lot to imbibe in situations where they might not want to.

        1. You may not be particularly cute, but I thought you had a nice boyish charm (for an old guy) when we met ;)

      3. I’m an introvert and have asperger’s. So I thought I’d give my perspective since it closely follows your question. 

        I didn’t drink a drop until I was about 22 (didn’t drink at all in college, was in grad school at the time). Didn’t really like it, though I tried. I still detest the taste of alcohol, but I learned to drink in Thailand, in the middle of the jungle, with a professor and grad student from a Thai university. They drank hard, and always cheap fire-water Thai whiskey, and eventually I got it – it was actually pleasurable. It helped that they were really cool guys, such that I actually enjoyed losing my introvert inhibitions and was able to talk and interact with them more freely than I normally might.

        Later, I drank at parties (I didn’t really go to any parties in college and have only been to a few since, but…). I am terrible at parties and find it difficult to talk to people – even (or especially) family parties. Having a couple of drinks helps immensely – though others probably don’t notice and assume I haven’t been drinking at all, since the externally visible effect is slight even when I’m almost wasted. Still, I can at least pretend to be mildly sociable at parties after a couple of drinks.

        I avoid clubbing, but in the past year or so was brought along to clubs (in downtown LA and in Vegas) a couple times. It’s intolerable – until you’ve had at least a couple drinks, at which point it’s actually rather enjoyable (assuming you have a girlfriend there, or someone else willing to dance with you). Having that couple of drinks ahead of time (pregaming) makes the whole thing less intolerable from the start, and easier to handle.

        All that said, I don’t drink for general pleasure. I usually have some decent beer in the fridge and try drinking it casually sometimes, but it doesn’t really do anything for me. But in social situations – which normally are extremely difficult for me for the reasons stated in the first sentence – it is an immense help.

    1. Basically. When I was young and stupid the idea was to get buzzed at home on the cheap before hitting the bar, making it cheaper to maintain that buzz. But then there were a ton of people who pre-gamed before things like house parties and tailgating where there was little cost incentive.

      1. I was living on my own by the time I was 16*. So for me it really was just a way to save money, have fun and still make rent. I think I was making in the range of 4.50$ and hour back then and I could buy a six-pack of beer at the liquor store for the price of a single pint at the bar.

        However, for house parties we never did. No point.

        By the time I got to college, drinking to get drunk was a goal I’d already accomplished, mastered and surpassed. By then I drank for enjoyment of drinking, only getting drunk occasionally. Crazy, I know.

        (*In my home province the drinking age was 18)

    2.  The practice is also commonly called pre-loading.

      Not only used to “save money”, (near) alcoholics use it in private situations where they fear the host will not provide enough alcohol (“Mom insists on 1 bottle of wine for 4 people”) or it would be unseemly to drink up everything.

  6. I went to a college where free beer was pretty widely available at student-run off campus “clubs” to anyone with a student ID. And the local cops were always trying to bust the clubs for serving underage kids. Whenever the cops would pressure the clubs to deny beer to underage patrons, however, the under-21 crowd would simply pregame in their dorms before heading out to the clubs.

    From a safety, liability and social perspective, I’d MUCH rather have a bunch of 18-20 year olds drinking free beer in a relatively safe environment where older students are keeping an eye on the goings-on than have them illicitly chugging cheap liquor in their dorm rooms. We always argued that was what they were going to do if the cops really cracked down, but the cops didn’t care.

    So IMO studies like this are actually important tools in the argument against shortsighted enforcement efforts like the cops in my college town.

      1. The study looks at the effects of pregaming, regardless of its motivations. 

        In Switzerland (as in many US college towns), pregaming is largely motivated by the high cost of buying drinks at a bar. 

        At my college, because beer was effectively free, there wasn’t much reason to pregame unless you didn’t have access to the free beer, so the cops were effectively causing pregaming by stepping up enforcement of drinking age restrictions.  Student safety would have been better served by looking the other way.

        1.  Same thing in Norway. Drinking at a bar is hideously expensive, so there’s the “vorspiel” (we actually use the German word! Similarly, the afterparty is a “nachspiel”).

          I don’t need the vorspiel to get shitfaced, though…

      1. A most wonderful place.  :) 

        The college itself didn’t give out free beer, but most juniors and seniors were members of (and paid dues to) clubs (kind of like fraternities) a block or two off campus that served free beer.  On any given Thursday or Saturday night (and most Friday nights) there were at least a couple of clubs open that would let anyone with a student ID in the door.

        While it created a very alcohol-centric social scene (with attendant problems of date rape, etc.), I think the openness of the scene, the ability of students to walk back to their dorms (almost everyone lived on campus), the sense of responsibility that the clubs’ student leaders felt for their members and guests, and the fact that only beer (not liquor) was freely available created a much safer space for students to have a good time than at many other schools.

  7. “Pre-gaming didn’t have a name when I was their age; it’s interesting how the phenomenon (is it even a phenomenon?) has become a media meme this year.”

    It may be new to the mainstream press, but the phrase isn’t that novel. I first heard it about a decade ago. Dates on Urban Dictionary entries go back around that far as well.

    1. ‘Preloading’ (as someone mentioned above), ‘frontloading’ and ‘priming’ have been used to describe it for some time too.

  8. We called it “pre-partying”. A couple beers while we watched Seinfield, then zip over to the bar for a $2 pitcher (per person of course) of crappy domestic before the special ended at 10p. Then we nursed a few drinks while we hit on anything wearing a skirt, went home alone and passed out. God, I miss college.

  9. Calling it ‘pre-‘ anything kind of seems lame. When I went to university in Newfoundland, we called it “Getting ‘Primed'”. e.g. “We’re gettin’ primed over at Darren’s place, then heading down to the Duke (of Duckworth) to meet up with the rest of the b’ys”.I think that’s a much better term.

  10. Do the authors of the study stop to consider that the people who pre-game would most likely drink more regardless?  If they, god forbid, didn’t have any booze at home, would those same people have 7 drinks in a night at the bar?  Most likely yes.  And if there was a power outage and the bars were closed, are these the same people who would have 7 drinks with friends at home?  I can’t stand these studies that don’t consider anything other than the hypothesis their trying to prove.

    1. Exactly, the point of pregaming is to consume a lot of alcohol without going broke, So unsurprisingly those people more interested in getting drunk get more drunk and therefore do all the stupid dangerous things associated with it….

  11. We called it “prep firing” (a paperboard wargame reference young whipperschnappers are unlikely to know) or “preparing to prepare” – the idea behind that one was you caught a little buzz before you dressed to go out for the evening, which of course resulted in exactly the sort of clothing choices that made the 1970s famous (notorious?).

  12. I never found pre-partying to be an effective way to save  money, since the amount I drink when out is more a constant product of quantity over time rather than “get to a certain buzz then stop.”  Actually, it tended to have the opposite effect, since past a certain intoxication level, you tend to drink more just because you are drunk. Alcohol begets alcohol.

  13. “Pre-gaming didn’t have a name when I was their age”

    When I was in college (in 1981) it was called “pre-functioning” (presumably as parties, especially frat parties, were often referred to as ‘functions’).

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